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What Does The Old Testament "Do"? — An Excerpt From "Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition"
On Tuesday, I (re)introduced you to the revised version of John Walton's and Andrew Hill's Old Testament Today (2nd Edition). In it they maintain the Old Testament "has been largely lost to the church" because "people simply don't know what to do with it." (xiii)
One of the reasons why is because people think it's simply a collection of 39 books written in long-lost languages that magically became the sacred texts of two dominate religions—Judaism and Christianity.
While to some extent this is true, Walton and Hill argue this merely describes what the Old Testament is. We need to go further: "we need to be reoriented to what the Old Testament does." (6)
And what does the Old Testament "do"? In the excerpt below from their unique Old Testament survey, Walton and Hill explore three important functions of the Hebrew Scriptures: Revelation, Scripture, and Authority.
First the Old Testament reveals. It acts as a vessel of God's self-disclosure; it carries God's story. Because we accept these claims the Old Testament reveals God to humanity, we also claim it is Scripture. It is unique and distinct from any other book—even other so-called "sacred books." And the reason why is because ultimately this book has authority. Or more precisely, as N.T. Wright insists, the authority of the triune God is exercised somehow through the Old Testament.
The authors insist, "In our reorientation to the Old Testament, we need to come to know the Old Testament not merely as laws and history, psalms and prophecy, but as God’s authoritative revelation of himself." Read the excerpt below and pre-order it today to explore how this textbook will help reorient interested students of the Hebrew Scriptures.
-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)
PS—If you're an Old Testament professor considering this textbook for your class, request a free exam copy (ISBN: 9780310498209).
…It is not enough to say “The Old Testament is a collection of thirty-nine books written in Hebrew (and Aramaic) that became the Scriptures of the Jewish people as well as Christians,” although this certainly is true. But that is what the Old Testament is — we need to be reoriented to what the Old Testament does.
When we say that the Old Testament is God’s revelation of himself, we are affirming that in the Old Testament God is telling us his story. So begins our quest in the Bible. We need to know God, and the Bible is his story. When we first come to know someone, we are acquainted by relating parts of our stories to one another.
The first pages we open include our name, our hometown, and other basic information. As acquaintances become friends, they unfold more and more of their stories to one another. They discover likes and dislikes, past history, present struggles and joys, and future hopes and dreams. We gauge how well we know a person by how much we know of their story. When people come to love one another, they want to know every story, and they delight in hearing those stories over and over again.
How can we come to know God? By relating stories to one another. God relates his story through his Word, the Bible. We relate our stories through prayer. God’s story is intended to help us to know him. When we see his attributes in action, we come to understand the implications of those attributes. If I were to boast of a friend’s kindness, my assessment would be most persuasive if I were able to tell of some of the incidents in which that kindness was evident in unique ways.
Once in an initial conversation with a real estate agent, we discovered that we had a mutual acquaintance. My statement that this mutual acquaintance was a good friend could have been understood at various levels. But when I elaborated by saying that his family lived at our house for three weeks while their house was being remodeled, the person had a lot better idea of the level of our friendship. So it is with God. It is not enough to say simply that he is sovereign, just, faithful, loving, gracious, compassionate, or anything else. We know God by hearing his story and by others telling us of things he has done. We know God by seeing his attributes in action and thereby gaining insight into the warp and woof of his character.
The Bible accomplishes this for us, and that is why we refer to it as God’s revelation of himself. If we had no revelation, we would only be able to guess what God was like. We would have to infer from the world around us or from philosophical deduction or from the circumstances of human experience. Like ancients who had no revelation, moderns who refuse to acknowledge the Bible as God’s revelation are mired in this bog of uncertainty. If they believe there is a God, the world around them might suggest he is arbitrary or distant. Human experience might suggest to them that he is cruel or meddling. Speculation might conclude that he is like a genie in a bottle, a cosmic cop, or a kindly grandparent.
Only revelation can correct these misperceptions. Without the Bible we would know nothing about God with any confidence. Only revelation can offer information outside of ourselves by which we can form a confident and accurate image of God in our minds. As we proceed through our orientation to the Old Testament, one of the most important tasks we will face is to understand how God’s story is presented or advanced through each book and how the different genres function to offer us this story.
In many ways in various places — from Sinai and the prophets in the Old Testament to the statements of the apostles in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20 – 21 — the Bible presents itself as God’s self-disclosure. It is because we accept these claims of the Bible to be God’s revelation, God’s story, that we label it Scripture. It is not like any other book; it is not just good or classic literature; it is not just a repository of traditions; it is not just entertainment. Once we label it as Scripture, it is no longer just anything. Yet even among the books that the major religions of the world label as scripture, the Bible holds a unique position. Even most other scriptures are not revered as the self-revelation of deity — they are simply seen as sacred books. If we were left with a Bible that was just a sacred book, our confidence in our faith would be badly compromised. If the Bible were reduced to being the wise thoughts of spiritual people about God, our hope would be shattered.
But how can we be so confident that the Bible is revealed Scripture? Normal responses include reference to fulfilled prophecies and historical accuracy — these have an important role to play, and they help but fall short of offering absolute proof. Skeptics can always find examples of prophecies that don’t pair up well with fulfillments or historical statements that can be undermined. Moreover, even if everyone agreed that every historical statement was above reproach, that would not prove the book was God’s revelation of himself. In the end, the confidence we have derives from Christ. The Old Testament was the Bible to him — his basis for teaching who God is, what he is like, and what he did. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, his testimony seals our acceptance of the Old Testament as revealed Scripture.
The implication of the belief that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself is that we must accept it as authoritative. At the center of this authority is not what the Bible tells us to do, although its commands and instructions cannot be ignored. The center of its authority is found in what it tells us to think and believe. It is true that if the Bible says something happened, we believe it happened; if the Bible says someone existed, we believe he or she existed; these are implications of its authority. But the core of its authority is to be found in what it tells us God is like. We are compelled by its authority to accept this picture of God, place it in the center of our worldview, and make it the basis for everything we think and do. Its picture of God is true, and this picture demands our response.
In our reorientation to the Old Testament, we need to come to know the Old Testament not merely as laws and history, psalms and prophecy, but as God’s authoritative revelation of himself. If we can do this, the end result will not just be that we will be educated; we will be transformed — godly people living holy lives committed to imitating and serving the God we have come to know through the Bible. (pgs 6-9)
Old Testament Today, 2nd Edition
Edited by John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill
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